Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Northern Irish public have little hope for future peace and economy

Day 5 of our exclusive opinion poll reveals little optimism things are going to get better

Loyalists confront police during protests in Belfast's Royal Avenue last month colm lenaghan/pacemaker
What future do you expect for Northern Ireland?
What future do you expect for Northern Ireland?

Our latest poll results confirm the emerging picture of a Northern Ireland that is gloomy about its prospects and unsure about its identity.

More than 60% of us do not expect things to get better over the next 10 years, and about one person in seven (13.1%) actually expects the Troubles to return over the next decade – much the same as the number who expect greater peace and stability to develop (14%).

Expectations on the economy are even more downbeat.

Nearly a quarter expect it will decline (19.3%) while less than a 10th (8.1%) predict an upturn.

Most people either predict things staying the same (29.3%) or don't know what to expect.

Since those surveyed were only allowed to choose one option it is reasonable to assume that many of those who predict a return to violence also believe the economic prospects will also deteriorate.

Instability and economic slump tend to go hand in hand.

Similarly, those who expect peace and stability are likely to be more cheery about the economic outlook.

Broadly, 38.6% expect a gloomy future, 22.1% expect a better future and 29.3% think nothing much will change, while 16.2% don't know what to expect.

The gloom deepens among the young as 43.6% of 18-24-years-olds expect things to get worse, though it falls a little among 25-44-year-olds where it is 28.5%. This is the same cohort of young people of voting age who are alienated and pessimistic on other fronts.

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They are the least likely to vote, they rate the Assembly and politicians lowest and they aren't very supportive of the police either.

Another worrying sign is that those in the AB social grade, a marketing term to describe people in the middle classes or higher, are even more pessimistic about the prospects for economic growth than lower-earning professions and the unemployed.

These are people running industry and in the professions who could be expected to not only be living the good life, but to have an overview of how things are going. But only 5.1% expect growth and more than a third (33.5%) predict decline over the next 10 years.

That compares with 18.3% of C1 grades (supervisors, junior managers and some professionals) and 17.6% from the C2 group (largely composed of skilled workers) who think things will get better.

These are very low numbers of people thinking they and their children can expect a better life.

Men are more pessimistic about the economic future than women.

More men envisage a return to Troubles-era violence, 15.9%, and a higher proportion of males, 22.8%, expect to see the economy get worse.

For women the proportions are 10.5% for violence and 16.1% for economic growth.

Politics here is usually fought out on identity issues but things are no longer that clear-cut.

Respondents were allowed to choose between British, Irish and Northern Irish identity and there is a spread of views which, particularly for Catholics, did not go along traditional sectarian lines.

It is notable that the Northern Irish identity, which seemed to come to the fore around 2010 and 2011 as people came to terms with devolution, now seems to be under some pressure.

It seems likely that there is some disillusionment with Stormont and the other Northern Ireland institutions people once bought into.

These are the same respondents who, this year and in our previous poll in May 2012, gave devolution a negative rating compared to direct rule. The only difference was that in May 2012 it was -40% and this year it had sunk to -60%.

Respondents were asked whether the term Northern Irish, British or Irish best described them – 13.3% of people polled described themselves as Northern Irish, 20.5% as Irish, while the largest group of 33.4% described themselves as British.

Although 'British' was most popular, there was no sign of a "majority community", and around a quarter of Catholics chose the British designation.

Clearly things are changing – but people are not confident about the way they are heading.

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